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Investigation after claims of abuse at prestigious UK schools

Mandatory reporting should be in force says top abuse lawyer after abuse investigation launched into one of UK's top schools

Posted on 02 May 2014

A leading abuse lawyer has called for mandatory reporting of allegations of abuse against children in all schools after claims that up to 18 teachers may have abused dozens of boys for several decades at one of Britain’s most famous public schools.

According to the Times newspaper, Scotland Yard has launched an investigation known as Operation Winthorpe into St Paul’s School, in London, and its preparatory school, Colet Court.

The investigation follows a series of complaints from former pupils who allege that they were victims of sex crimes at the schools.

It is reported that detectives are investigating claims against ten staff who taught at Colet Court and eight at St Paul’s and have compiled a list of more than 100 victims, suspects and potential witnesses spanning five decades, from the mid-1960s to last year.

Alison Millar an abuse specialist at law firm Leigh Day said:

“The scale of the alleged sexual abuse and the length of time it is being reported it took place is staggering. It seems inconceivable that the leadership and Governors of the school were not aware of complaints or suspicions about their teachers.

“The investigation must ask who knew what and what was done about even the slightest suspicion around sexual misconduct in a school which is entrusted with the care of children.

“It must also ensure that measures to avoid reputational damage to a very prestigious and profitable independent school were not placed above the wellbeing of its students.

“I would strongly support a mandatory reporting duty covering regulated activities like schools as being advocated by survivors charities in the 'Mandate Now' campaign.

“The primary purpose of such a duty would be to ensure allegations of abuse can come promptly to the attention of the proper authorities. A mandatory reporting duty should make clear that those who deliberately suppress or turn a blind eye to allegations of abuse could expect criminal sanction."  

A former St Paul’s master, Pat Marshall, was arrested in February on suspicion of indecently assaulting a pupil in the 1970s.

Keith Perry, an ex-colleague of Mr Marshall received a suspended prison sentence in the same month for possessing hundreds of extreme child abuse images.

Anthony Fuggle, a Colet Court teacher was arrested in September 2013 on suspicion of possessing indecent images of boys, said to have been found on a school computer. He is on bail.

The Times has revealed that another teacher, Tim Harbord, who taught at the prep school was also arrested last year on suspicion of sexually grooming a child. He was not charged with any offence and denies any misconduct.

Both he and Mr Fuggle both resigned during the current academic year.

Operation Winthorpe is investigating a series of crimes according to the Times, from indecent assaults to penetrative sex committed by 18 teachers against boys aged from 9 to 17, in dormitories, classrooms, a swimming pool, inside a car and at teachers’ private homes.

Ms Millar concluded:

“Public schools are a far more closed world, where many of the Masters may themselves have been educated at the same institution or similar educational environment as boys.

“The curtains must be drawn back to let the light into those schools where a dysfunctional and potentially criminal culture may have developed, facilitated by a wall of silence by those in a position of power.”

The inquiry’s telephone hotline is 020 7161 0500. Its email address is opwinthorpe@met.pnn.police.uk